Unlike Clinton, however, who seems sincerely to be an affable good-ol’-boy who obviously likes people, Obama comes across as quite different. What the media and even some conservatives laughably call his “cool” is actually an arrogant disdain for other people, particularly those who refuse to worship at his shrine. His narcissism is monumental, as when last month he told a group of NBA players, “It’s very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth- or sixth-most interesting person.” This self-regard is made even more distasteful by the gap between it and his obvious incompetence daily revealed in everything from verbal gaffes to ignorance of basic economics, not to mention his utter failure to turn the economy around. He has arrogant mannerisms, such as lifting his chin when he lectures, his addiction to the first-person pronoun, and his verbal tics like “Let me be perfectly clear,” as though he were speaking to incompetent underlings rather than the citizens he supposedly serves. His claims to be “post-racial” have been belied by his incessant dealing of the race card to deflect criticism, as when he called his grandmother a “typical white person” for fearing the statistically factual probability of being the victim of a black criminal.
His nice-guy persona is also belied by his political minions’ vicious ad hominem attacks on Romney and the Republicans, and by his fondness for using scorched-earth tactics against his political enemies. Witness the coarse, unnecessary attack on the Catholic Church over the contraception mandate, or his last minute demand for another $400 billion of tax increases in his negotiations with John Boehner over raising the debt ceiling last year. And let’s not forget his juvenile penchant for blaming others for his own mistakes, particularly his ungracious treatment of his predecessor, made all the more glaring by George Bush’s classy restraint. Finally, there are the numerous unsavory details from his past, such as palling around with terrorist Bill Ayers, getting his political opponents’ sealed divorces record unsealed, spending 20 years in racist Reverend Wright’s church, and profiting from his association with convicted real estate operator Tony Rezko. What’s so “likable” about all that?
The obvious answer, as Rush Limbaugh has argued, is the “Bradley Effect.” In 1982, Los Angeles’s black mayor Tom Bradley had a significant lead over George Deukmejian in the race for California governor, but ended up losing. Some argued that voters lied to pollsters about their support for Bradley because they feared being seen as racist or prejudiced, thus creating the discrepancy between pre-election polls and the final result. Other elections that seemed to reflect this phenomenon were the 1989 New York mayor’s race between Rudy Giuliani and David Dinkins, and the 1989 Virginia governor’s race between Douglas Wilder and Marshall Coleman. Dinkins and Wilder both won their elections, but by margins much narrower than predicted by pre-election polls.
If the “Bradley Effect” is at work in the polls measuring Obama’s likability, then the dysfunction of America’s race relations is even worse than we thought. Obama has governed not as a centrist like Clinton or even a conventional liberal like Bradley or Wilder, but as a doctrinaire progressive who is way out of touch with the center-right American political majority. Nor does his arrogant public personality soften the extremism of his politics. If a significant number of Americans are telling pollsters that they find someone so out of touch with their political beliefs “likable,” just because they’re afraid of appearing “racist” by criticizing a black man, then the race card remains a powerful trump. Whether it’s powerful enough to return a manifest failure to the White House remains to be seen.
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